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Is there a future in email marketing?

Many readers of Strategic Coffee are probably also on the McKinsey Quarterly email list and will have received their notification this weekend that their mailing list had been compromised. It seems the spammers will stop at nothing to get hold of good quality email addresses at which to aim their unwanted advertising campaigns. And if they can get through the security of a company of the calibre of McKinsey, one might legitimately ask if any company is safe.

(To be fair, I don't think the breach happened at McKinsey itself, but happened rather at a third party supplier to whom they had outsourced their outbound mass email marketing. But this only means that the risk of compromise is concentrated in a smaller number of providers who are then more attractive to the hackers.)

Which leaves me wondering if there is any real way of keeping your e-mail address safe other than to simply not give it out to companies? I must admit that I generally avoid signing up for things by email, much preferring RSS, Twitter or Facebook for staying engaged with the brands in which I am interested. Each of these technologies allow me to choose what content I want to pull from which content providers and don't allow unwanted third parties to hijack those channels of communication to push information at me that I don't want.

Sadly this means that I sometimes choose not to engage with brands with which I might otherwise engage simply because they provide no means of engagement other than by offering my email address. In addition where companies do insist on engagement by email, I am frequently forced to consign their messages to the spam bin if they don't provide a suitable alternative means of unsubscribing them. Since I am a gmail user, it's my understanding that gmail then flags that sender as a potential spammer and uses that knowledge to identify spam for all their users. That can't be good news for any email marketer.

I am curious to hear from other readers about what they think on this topic. Are marketers doing enough to provide ways of opting out of email communications and to provide alternative channels of engagement? Are customers becoming more wary of email as a channel of engagement and developing preferences for other channels? Please let me know what you think by posting in the comments below.

Update 16 April 2011: It seems the breach went well beyond McKinsey Quarterly. PCPitstop documents the extent of the breach here.

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